Longtime Dexter girls swim coach retires, leaving behind a strong legacy


Bergen and the 2015 Dexter state championship team take a victory leap into the pool. photo by Lizzy Merriman

After 26 years with the Dexter Girls Varsity Swimming & Diving program, Cory Bergen announced he’s retiring from his role as head coach.

He’s leaving behind a memorable legacy that saw him helping Dexter swimmers grow and learn while achieving many successes.

Dexter’s boys Swim and Dive coach Michael McHugh, who also coached with Bergen, summed him up this way...

"Cory has had a great career at Dexter,” McHugh said. “26 years, 2 state championships, 8 runner ups, countless All-State and All-Americans. Numerous Coach of the Year awards and winning the Matt Mann award, the highest honor the Michigan Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (MISCA) gives out. It's a legacy that will live for a long time."

Bergen is being replaced by Murphy Hansen, who has been his assistant coach for the last few years as well as the boys assistant. She also swam for Bergen and Dexter from 2008-2012.

"Coming back to DHS as a teacher and an assistant coach was such a whirlwind,” Hansen said. “I never thought I’d come back to my alma mater in either capacity when I graduated in 2012. However, being able to coach alongside Coach Bergen—the same person who led my high school teams to SEC victories and D2 State Meets each season—has been incredibly rewarding.”

She said the program once challenged her, supported her, and gave her so much to look forward to as a high school student. It really was a lifeline for her throughout her four years at DHS, she said looking back, and cites Bergen as a big reason for this.

“Much of that is due to the hard work, dedication, and years of experience that Coach Bergen brought to the table,” Hansen said. “The sacrifice of every high school coach should be recognized. However, the incredible sacrifice that high school swim coaches make due to the grueling training regimen which includes 2xDay practices all season long, should be both recognized and applauded. None of us are quite sure how Coach Bergen was able to hang on for 26 years, staying on the grind that is high school swimming."

Looking forward to the challenges ahead, Hansen says, "I’ve told Coach Bergen this before, our program won’t be the same without him. I hope I can make him proud!"

The Sun Times News reached out to Bergen to ask him what led to this big decision.

“I don't rush into anything, so the idea of retiring and turning the program over to someone else has been something I've mulled over for a few years,” said Bergen. “I always told myself that I'd reevaluate things once my youngest graduates high school. My son, Adam, is a senior here at DHS, so going out together is a factor.”

Also, he said spending more time with his wife and family is a major pull.

“I've loved being a coach all these years, but it does come at a cost,” he said. “I couldn't have done any of this without their support. It's time I started paying some of that back. It is hard to step down from something that has been such a big part of life for over 25 years and that's why I had to sit with this for a while to make sure the time was right.”

Another important part of his decision was who would follow in his footsteps.

“A huge factor was knowing that I was able to basically hand-pick my successor,” Bergen said. “Murphy Hansen swam for me, teaches with me at DHS and has been assisting me and the boys team for several years. I approached her years ago with this plan that she would take over for me when I left and she's been on board every step of the way. She is ready to take this on and I'm so excited for her to take the reins of this program and run with it. This will be a pretty seamless transition and that was important to me.”

Knowing there are many people over the years who’ve helped make his coaching career a good one, Bergen said he owes many thanks.

“I certainly want to thank all the student-athletes that were on the teams that I've coached,” he said. “Sports is always about the athletes and any success we had is because of their talent and efforts. I also want to thank all the parents and family members who volunteered their time, talents, and energy over the years. It's not something I ever took for granted. I've been blessed to know so many wonderful families over the years and feel lucky to have been part of this community.”

Bergen with 2019 backstroke state champion Charlotte Schultz. photo by Mike Williamson

He told this year's team how he felt about them at their recent end of the season banquet.

“They know what a special year we had and how much I appreciate them,” he said. “It makes me feel so good to have spent my last year coaching such a wonderful group. To see them able to spend so much time together and do fun things as a team after the previous year was really satisfying. They parlayed that energy and positivity into some great results by the end of the season. You couldn't wipe the smile off my face at our conference meet and state meet.”

Another important person for him has been Dexter Athletic Director Mike Bavineau.

“I really couldn't have asked for a better AD,” said Bergen, who is also a teacher at the high school.

He also paid special thanks to all of the people who assisted him with the girls team over the years: Jon Oesterle, Dave Gendernalik, Michael McHugh, Adrienne Woods, and Murphy Hansen.

McHugh said Bergen knows swimming and has passed on his knowledge to Dexter athletes for a long time.

“Dexter is better for having Coach Bergen work with our athletes on the pool deck," said McHugh.

Bergen said, “There were many years when I didn't have an assistant and these people made my job much easier and way more fun.”

He also thanked the dive coaches he’s had the pleasure to work with: Eric Burris, Manny Billegas, and Shawn Bergman.

“They all spent significant years here and made a big difference to the team's success,” Bergen said.

Looking back over the last 26 years, he said there are certain moments that do stand out.

“Some are the obvious ones that come with great team success: our first SEC title in 1998 when we hosted at Wylie Pool, our two state championships in 2002 and 2015,” he said.

“We were the favorite in 2002 and the state meet was held at U of M, so lots of fans showed up for the finals. I remember looking into the crowd and thinking that half of Dexter was there. It was a great feeling for the girls and the program to finally win it all so close to home,” he remembers. “The 2015 title was just so fun because we came in ranked #4, but I knew we were going to blow the lid off of Oakland University at that meet and that it would take a lot to beat us. It was just so satisfying to see those girls' hard work and determination end up with us holding the state trophy at the end.”

He said he’ll “also remember jumping into the pool with the team after winning 23 league titles in a row. They really loved doing that and their smiles are etched into my memories.”

Other memories for him include countless other dual meets and championship meets where they really hit on all cylinders, which were always fun.

“However, I'll remember all the goofy things that happen in between those meets just as much,” said Bergen. “Some of the bus rides were the best - filled with laughter, singing or interesting conversation that had nothing to do with swimming. Over the years we've played ultimate frisbee, hide and seek, water baseball, shark, jump, dive or twist off the boards, made whirlpools, bobbed for apples, washed cars, done swim-a-thons, Halloween parties, countless pasta dinners and team breakfasts, etc. This list goes on. That's what I'll remember the most and miss the most.”

As far as what’s next, he said he plans on continuing to serve on the state coaches association board as awards chair for a time to stay in touch with the swim community.

“Beyond that, I'm just going to take a breather and take some time to figure out what the next phase of my life holds,” said Bergen.

STN Sports Reporter Mike Williamson contributed to this story

Bergen holding the 2019 4th place trophy at the state finals. photo by Mike Williamson

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